I got my wish...

The deity of Christmas gifts has heard my plea and this year I did not get much from anybody, but the one present I got I liked.

I got a gift card to West Elm, and the serving set on the right is what I got with it. I got the tall bowl, the large round serving tray, and coasters.

Plus I got a little narrow wooden tray that could hold three candles or something like that. Also dark brown. So it all fits the general color scheme of my place.

Just in time for the party.

Oh yeah, and for the party, I am thinking in addition to karaoke, we can also play GT4 in arcade mode. I'd only need a second racing wheel so we can have people compete against each other. Anyone have one lying around they could bring? I'd prefer it were a Logitec one that has 900 degrees lock-to-lock turning range, so that competition is fair.

Gonna stop in a hurry now

My next season co-driver and I installed the brakes on the yellow car today, and bedded them in. The car's sitting in front of the house now, cooling off, with all brakes off, just in gear to keep it from rolling.

The new brakes are grabbier than the OEM ones, and it will take me a day or two to get used to and to modulate the input accordingly. They also are producing some noise, but that's the trade-off for running performance pads. The Carbotech AX6--designed for autocross--are supposed to be quieter than say, their track pads, so I won't complain. A little brake noise in exchange for increased stopping power is not a high price to pay.

When we were done, we put the old rotors with the other ones in the garage, and the fronts off my car were as big as the rears off the Corvette. Kinda like the rears off the S are same size as Miata's fronts. Oh well. With great (horse)power come bigger rotors, or something. :)


Crash worthiness

Relaxing after a plentiful Christmas day brunch, I meandered over to Wrecked Exotics and started flipping through "Bad crashes." After seeing a couple hundred shots it seems (and I know this collection might not be representative) that coupes, and particularly the luxury or performance coupes, seem to be the best life insurance. Well, that and common sense it takes to not exceed the limits of what you can handle. So that shot of the crashed Merc coupe (I think it's an S? Anyone?) kinda had me sold. Look at how A and B pillars are not even bent. And the thing came resting on its roof. Guess I might want to consider a car with B pillars next time I'm in the market.

Microsoft kills Christmas

XKCD rocks, as usual.

Love the prime numbers, so I get a bonus kick out of this episode :)

Volkswagen goes surreal

An awesome VW ad that is not only entertaining to watch but says something about the nature of creating perfect design. Also shows off some VW Golf parts like disc brakes, exhaust, engine, and you get a look at the assembly line. Really clever.

Features Jeans Team's Keine Melodien for soundtrack. That song was covered by Peaches on The Teaches of Peaches, BTW.

Anybody know whether VW actually employs a designer named Karl Lühr? That's what it says on the name plate at the door. I googled, but could not find anything conclusive. There seems to be a parts supplier company named "Lühr" though.

Via Autoblog

Edit: 04-Jan-2009: In case you want to listen to the full song by Jeans Team, here it is:


Gotta try Alice

So, if you didn't have the patience to listen to all of Randy Pausch's last lecture, here's one of the many things I learned from it: Alice.org.

Alice is an open-source learning environment that teaches Java, C++, and C# programming skills by having students make 3D animations.

I am thinking I might just try it out myself. Linux and Mac packages are available.

Anyways, thought this was neat.

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Lee, at whose home I am staying this Christmas, has pointed out that inspiring video to me. Enjoy.


All I want for Christmas... is consumables

I am finding myself slightly dreading the holidays, because I am afraid that the few presents I will get, will be absolutely not what I would want.

When I think about it, any consumable is fine: Liquor, fruit, cheeses or wine. A gift certificate for TireRack or a gas card, that would be great.

Gift certs for department stores or other clothing chains would be okay, even though cars do come first.

Jewelry, nick-knacks, gift certs for Spa or manicure... I seriously would not know what to do with. I don't wear jewelry, consider my home well-decorated in all its minimalist glory, and will die of boredom getting "pampered" for 40 minutes.

Oh well. I think that just in general I am not a holidays person. All this forced passivity, holiday music everywhere, artificial sweetness of people pretending to care more than usual about each other, using consumer items to express this caring... Sigh

Is there an oneirocritic in the house?

Eat, sleep, autocrossI must be on serious withdrawal, because I am beginning to have dreams about autocross.

This morning, just before my Roomba started and woke me up, I was dreaming that I somehow completely by accident ended up at an autocross event ran by my club: I did not even know it was supposed to be happening that day. I was there with a friend who promptly proceeded to grid and run. And I had no car. So I spent the rest of the dream trying to find the grid so I could either ask to co-drive or at least bum a ride. And just as I seemed to be getting somewhere, the robot woke me up.


A double-edged sword: RIAA will no longer sue individuals for file sharing

Via Consumerist:

RIAA has announced a fairly dramatic change in its strategy to fight piracy. Beginning immediately, it will no longer sue individual file sharers or do dumb things like harass universities.

So on one hand, it is good to see that RIAA is backing away from the ineffective and plain evil strategy. On the other hand, it is not really a step in the right direction that would help decriminalize the activity in which the majority of the population engages and help solve the problem to which the copyright as it is now can't be the answer.


Utterly beautiful, with way too many names: Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR Stirling Moss


via Autoblog

Night drive

Last night, I went for a gratuitous 1-hour drive after dinner in the yellow car. I took it down old US 1 past Apex.

It was after 8pm, and there was nobody on the road. I took a few fast-ish curves, did a couple "emergency" stops and went from 0-80 after each of them. Man, I love the sound of this car revving to over 8000 RPM.


Captcha to google?

This is totally weird, and you probably got this as well. I was searching the string "My other car is a Miata" and got a captcha from Google. Two other people in the office did within a few minutes when they searched, too.

That's not nice Google.

Bad, bad usability.

Go Soma FM

MySoma.fm t-shirt has arrived the other day, and I promptly wore it to work. They also put a couple stickers into the package, and I need to figure out what to do with those, since I am not really a sticker person.

Split personality

December seems to be a tough month to sell a convertible sports car, and so I still have a fleet of two-seaters at my disposal. Every morning I get to pick which one to take to work, and the S frequently wins. However, no matter which car I take, I don't really tend to think about how they are perceived by others, and frolic about like I always do, at least as much as you can frolic on your way to the office.

This morning I was driving the S, and committed two faux pas in less than 10 minutes.

First, I caught up with an NA Miata on a small road in my neighborhood, and followed it for about a mile. I was enjoying following the little roadster and thought nothing of it, but the poor thing pulled over to the right as soon as we got to a 2-lane road and let me zip past. It got into the left lane right after I passed it. Sad. I did not want to bully a fellow Miata driver.

Then, I was driving and thinking about social implications of driving one car or the other, all other things like driving style and road manners being equal. I was deep enough in thought about all this, that I forgot to greet an S2000 driver--something many S owners do.

That made me feel like I was a medium-severity jerk twice in a row.

New Year's Party postponed

Enough votes and emails have come in to indicate that most of the ones who would be interested in a Singstar party (or any party at my place) won't be able to make it on the 31st. So the party has now officially been moved--if I say so myself!--to the Saturday the 17th of January. Consider yourself invited.

I will send out emails to invite you all as well, but if you are reading this, and know me, and don't get the email--don't be mad at me and show up, I'll be glad to see you!


Turbo rocks big time

Today I went and got enough credits for a turbo for my GT4 Miata, and it got my little car up to 304 horsies. I figured, let's try and run one of the Spider/Roadster races in the beginner series, the ones where I could not even keep up on a straight.

Guess what? I managed to keep up quite well indeed. So well, that I discovered that faster races also seem to have nastier drivers.

That's the one aspect of GT that keeps bugging me, and frequently spoiling all the fun: The crash-car game mentality, where everyone seems to be pushing and bumping into each other all the time. As far as I know, most professional racing is nothing like that, and you'd get disqualified pretty quickly if you kept crashing into people and damaging fairly expensive machinery.

Around my third run in the Roadster challenge I was getting used to the extra power and managed to pass 2 cars, but when they caught up with me, they just took turns pushing me and using my car to crash into to slow down in turns. So I ended up off-course and hopelessly behind. That was not nice at all.

That got me mad enough though that I went and won the damn race a few attempts later! That'll teach'em!

Didn't even push too much at all, just passed half of them elegantly (more or less) on the outside in slow turns and the faster two I caught coming out of a long straight into a 90-degree turn.

That won me enough money to get a brake upgrade, and a wing for some downforce, now that my Miata flies.

I am elated over the fact that now I can win races that bring more tangible money prizes and get done with the "Miata project" faster, so I can win even more advanced races and hopefully end up with some serious supercar collection.

GT4: Learning curves

When you get a new toy, what do you do first? Research best game strategies on the intarwebs? Neither did I.

So I discovered that I made a few mistakes early on, but I am getting closer to correcting both.

First mistake was to blow all the starter credits the game gave me to buy a used car: It was not enough to buy anything cool, so I ended up with a 1997 NA Miata, which can only beat grocery-getters in Sunday Cup and can't keep up with any serious competition.

Second mistake was to settle for bronze when doing the A and B racing license tests. The prize cars I got were a Lupo, which I promptly sold to upgrade my Miata, and a Pontiac Solstice concept car that can't be priced, and so I am keeping it for just in case. Grrr.

So I was running a bunch of beginner races, and gradually went from using the Miata primarily as a lawnmower, to just occasional agricultural excursions, and finally got good enough to beat most of the competition in the Sunday Cup consistently. That helped me pay for a fully customizable suspension, a race chip, an exhaust upgrade, and some other stuff.

Today I will only need to run for 30-40 minutes to earn the remaining few thousand credits until I can put a turbo on the Miata, and then it should be on par to run in the Spider and Roadster races. Right now, I can't even keep up on a straight with the cars running in those events.

Also, I have three more licenses to earn (iA, iB, and Super-License), and this time, I will not take anything but Gold for an answer :) Wonder what kind of prize car that will get me in the end.

It's encouraging that the very first test I took for the iB license, I passed, and soon got Silver. I only need to shave off 0.015 seconds off my best time to get Gold.

Guess I am learning.


Providing excellent customer experience

Got a call from my health insurance (or whatever it is that they are: I am still confused about how this stuff works in the US). Anyway, the automated call said Why don't you refill your prescriptions now, so you don't have to worry about them during holidays? I thought that was reasonable and pressed "1" as suggested by the bot. That put me in a wait loop for about 2 minutes and then I got disconnected.

Great job Cigna.


Oooh, you are so exotic, baby

Though I am not really Asian, this spoken-word performance captures very well how I sometimes feel when I become an object of superficial idle inquiries about my origin, my "culture" frequently reduced to cuisine, and how to say certain words in "my language."

Being an object, an exotic exhibit, subject to stares of "normal people" -- all of that does not make me feel appreciated, it makes me feel excluded. Glad to see I am not alone.


New Year's Party

I am thinking of throwing a New Year's party at my place this year, and would like to see what the response would be. Please vote below.

Spouses, significant others, friends, and strangers you met at the gas station on the way are all welcome.

You can bring children, but they will have to fend for themselves: Mine is not a childproof household.


Rainy day thoughts

It is raining today, so I took the Miata to work, because it has all-season tires on it. S2000 has well-worn Hankook RS2s on it, and as you can see in the picture, they do not offer much drainage at all, even when they aren't almost down to the wear bars, like mine.

In cold weather, the Miata's old battery decided to stop holding charge, so I used the Honda to jump-start the car, and had it idle for 15 minutes while I was loading up the autocross wheels for the S2K into it.

The reason for this is that I ordered some all-seasons for the Honda, a set of brand-spanking new Kumho Ecsta ASX, as seen below, from TireRack.

Next week, when they arrive at Hubcap Heaven, they will go onto the shiny street wheels that the Honda is wearing. And the RS2s will go onto the autocross wheels, so I can burn them up at the test and tune in February and not feel bad about it. T&Ts are usually at the Laurinburg airport, and the concrete there eats through tires like nothing. Would be a shame to use up a new set of autocross tires there.

Speaking of autocross, there's another event at Carowinds this Sunday. I am pretty sure I will go, because honestly, I don't have anything better to do, definitely nothing better than hitting cones with my new car.


Robin's Steers and Queers Party

Yes we had fun.

Support Soma.fm

Soma.fm is an awesome internet radio service, that is free to listen to, and relies on voluntary donations to pay its bills, like the music royalties. I love their Secret Agent, Space Station, and Groove Salad stations and listen to them almost every day at my desk at work. I donated $50 today.

Give them a listen, and if you like the music, give them some money, too.

Almost makes me want to drive a Miata again... Almost

Just saw this on Autoblog and almost felt regret at ditching Mazda for the Honda. But then I thought better of it.

Yes I am seriously in love. Can't you tell?

I did it for the herd... or Why I don't get flu shots

Entertaining, and also confirming my decision not to get vaccinated every fall.

If I get a flu shot, the probability of me feeling ill for at least 24 hours is almost 100%. The chances that I will get exposed to a strain of flu I am not vaccinated against are quite tangible, as demonstrated by my countless vaccinated coworkers who are spending days sick at home with the bug that I had last month.

So my choice is not to play roulette with my immune system for the sake of "greater good" of the herd.


Via: chris uggen's weblog
Sociological Images


Mama voted for Obama

Okay, this is just bizarre. Seen on "Crooks and liars."

58 lbs of crazy stopping power

Brake pads and rotors arrived today from Carbotech. Don't know when I'll be putting them on the car, since I'd need a friend to volunteer their garage, jackstands, and some expertise for me to actually be able to do it. On the other hand, the existing brakes work well enough for now.

The box was on my doorstep when I got home from work this evening. 58 pounds is equivalent to 26.3kg, by the way.

Oh yeah, for some reason the box also contained packing peas. Like they'd help if this mass got dropped... They got pretty much flattened and crumbled and crushed during transport, so I can't give them away or drop them off at a shipping place like the ones before. I guess I'll just have to put these into recycling or something. Who knows whether they are even recyclable.

Nobel Son

And another picture I saw this past weekend. Nobel Son received awful reviews, which I think are absolutely and utterly wrong. The movie was a blast to watch and so twisted, I simply stopped trying to figure it out and just enjoyed every new turn of the plot.

It is unlike any movie I can think of right now, but has tongue-in-cheek references to many movies I like.

In main automotive role is the Mini Cooper S. In case you wondered.

Now go watch the movie :)

Transporter 3

Saw Transporter 3 yesterday. Quite entertaining, actually, well-cast, with a gripping plot, and just the right length.

Written by Luc Besson who happens to have written all the previous Transporter movies, as well as my favourites Fifth element and Leon.

Audi S8 stars in the main role, its exhaust note providing a beautiful soundtrack to some of the best scenes.

If you go watch this movie (and I recommend you do)--leave your critical mind and knowledge of physics at the door so they don't get in the way. Then lean back and enjoy.

I got Christ-rolled

I knew I shouldn't ever trust those big billboards. But curiosity and boredom are powerful motivators.

So I was driving home the other night. Had a bit of a drive and my gaze fell on a billboard with the picture you see on the left and "Unfulfilled.org" on it. I was bored, so I thought a bit about it, and I figured, hey, it may be a dating site or something. Checked it out today, and lo! I got Christ-rolled.

Don't go there unless you want to be, too.

Popping bubble wrap

Don't know about you, but this is awesome! You don't only get to pop bubbles in the bubble wrap, you even get a perfectly good excuse to do so!


Fifth Element

Watched Fifth Element on Hulu for I think fifth time :) I still like the movie.

On an unrelated note, all 60 or so gallons of packing peas were claimed this morning. Thank you Craigslist!

Pampering my yellow beast

Replaced air intake filter on the car today. Picture is the closest thing I could find on Google to how it looks inside the air box. The filter looked like it might have never been changed before.

Also changed the cabin air filter (air conditioning and heater intake)--that one definitely was still factory. Even though I am not sure the generic Purolator filters I got at Advance Auto Parts are the absolute best replacement for the OEM parts, I am certain it's better then the filthy ones they replace.

I used the remaining few minutes of daylight after work to do the swap, right in the company parking garage. Took me all of 10 minutes per filter. Didn't need any tools either.

Brakes from Carbotech arrived today, but could not be delivered, because they weren't addressed right. I called UPS and corrected the address and they should have no problem to deliver them now.

Once the brakes are on, only three things will remain, but those are pretty big-ticket items: All fluids, street tires, and finally competition tires. I do hope that Miata sells soon!


And the packing peas shall inherit the earth

When I got home this evening, the wheels have arrived and I could not wait another second to unpack them. They were packed individually, with much care and arrived unscathed. From what I can tell with the naked eye they are round and actually don't show much damage at all. They definitely would be usable for street as well, but this set has higher calling.

While they wait to get clad in sticky rubber, I'm storing them on the balcony in the boxes they arrived in.

Oh yeah, boxes were filled with packing peas, and I ended up with three medium-sized garbage bags like the one in the picture full of them. Will try to give them away on Craigslist.


Do not attempt at home

An interesting thing happened. Coincidentally, I watched two similar movies this week, and the similarities do not end with lots of stylized graphic Tarantino-style violence and somewhat convoluted plots.

What's really cool is that both movies, made by not-quite mainstream directors, borrow from other films and directors, one tongue-in-cheek, and the other quite seriously.

The first movie I watched was Sukiyaki Western Django, which to me seemed like an original take on Kurasawa's Yojimbo while being a brilliant Tarantino-style western hommage at the same time. It even has Quentin starring in it! I won't bore you listing the countless references to famous movies--if you are into cinema like me, you'll enjoy discovering them on your own. All in all, a great film, and I can highly recommend it.

Not so with Wanted. Sadly.

I missed the film in theaters, and was among the first to rent it on DVD when it released yesterday. It's not every day that talented artists from post-Soviet-bloc countries make it big in Hollywood. Seeing a Kazakh director make a movie with such stars as Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman made me want to hope it will be as monumental an assassin action movie as the world has ever seen, one that will be remembered and quoted, and referenced by movie-makers later on. Quite to my disappointment, the film was an exercise in shallowness and mediocrity.

The cast and special effects were by orders of magnitude better than the plot and director's vision have merited.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some good shoot-em-up. But this wasn't one.

The plot borrows liberally from the Matrix: Beginning with the protagonist starting out in a bleak cubicle maze, to the rigorous training regimen, and down to the big shootout at the end of the movie, paralleling the one where Neo and Trinity are rescuing Morpheus. The visuals are awesome throughout the movie, but the characters are crudely defined and the plot line fails to convince.

Yes, it was somewhat entertaining, and a good way to kill two hours on a cold December night, but not as gripping and brilliant as it could have been, given all the resources its creator had at his disposal. A decisive Meh.

Wheels were here

Totally forgot! I bought a set of stock S2000 wheels on Craigslist a while ago. They were in a different state, and the seller kindly agreed to ship.

I know, I know, "avoid shipping scams." But the guy actually knew names of a couple folks I autocrossed with, so it was not appearing very risky.

Today I found a tag on my door saying the FedEx guy missed me. So I'll have to wait a whole extra day to find out what condition they're in. They were supposed to be scratched up a bit, and that's fine by me. I don't need pristine wheels to hit cones. As long as they're round and can be balanced, it's all good.

Next problem is, where the heck will I store them? With the Miata daisies/Azenis taking up space in the storage shed on the balcony, I just might have to store these guys in their boxes out on the balcony for a while, until the Miata sells.

Yes, December seems to be a tough month to sell a convertible :)

Honda is a harsh mistress...

... whom I obey readily and most willingly.

So after taking care of the most pressing needs of the car, like the alignment and oil change, I am moving on to the more fun stuff, that you can even count as an upgrade. The added bonus is, that the parts need to be replaced anyway, so my conscience is clear.

The pads and rotors on the car are worn, so today I have ordered a full set of Carbotech AX6 pads, and new rotors, while I was at it. Got a nice deal, actually, and a 10% discount for being with the Tarheels club.

The guy I spoke to on the phone was really nice and knew his stuff (and then some!), and I had a most pleasant customer experience.

The rear rotors were on back order, so I might have to wait a week or so to actually get the parts. Then I get to learn to do the swap on the new car! Yippee!

Next on the list are all manner of fluid changes: brake, clutch, tranny, and diff, while it's on the lift anyway. Yes, on a lift. I am thinking it's messy enough and some of the fluids are aggressive enough, and ALL of them are hazardous waste, that it's worth it to me to have the local shop do it. I will do my own research and select the fluids I want though. Shopping around for this stuff is most of the fun anyway.

Oh, and why the picture? I just find it über-cool. A cop car that you might as well not even try to run from. lulz

Mens sana...

So what's been keeping me sane in absence of autocross lately? Mostly driving around in my roadsters, GT4, working out, watching House on Hulu. And reading.

Ahh yes, books.

So here's what I have been reading:

  • Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra in an online repository. I think I will make a nice hard-bound collected works a holiday gift to myself. Or maybe will wait till I'm in Berlin to get it.
  • Dostoyevsky's Demons in hard-copy. I brought this and a dozen other books from my trip to Kazakhstan last Summer. Am slowly working my way through them all.
  • Secrets of solo racing by Henry Watts. I read it a couple months ago, and am mostly re-reading select passages when I think about it. Now that I have GT4 to practice the line, it is easier to follow the book. Maybe I should keep the Miata and make it a dedicated track car after all?
  • Philip K. Dick Reader, which I am almost half done with, and which is driving me nuts by its sexist attitudes. Women in these short stories are almost always either cooking, crying, needing help, acting irrationally, or maliciously getting men in trouble. Otherwise quite enjoyable collection of sci-fi.
  • Honda S2000 owner's manual and shop manual.
  • Project 50 by Tom Peters. Which seems to have been very well summarized in "Re-imagine!" so I am mostly scanning through it.

I think that's about it. When I'm done, what do you think should I read next?


Got the A-license

I know you were sitting on the edge of your seat ever since I got GT4. So here is the great announcement: I got both B- and A-license now. That is all good, but with the cars I got in my garage (a Miata and a Sunfire) I can't outrun any cars in the races I can go to without tuning. So looks like I'll have to scavenge for little consolation prizes here and there until I can spiff out the Miata. Funny how I ended up in the exact situation in-game as I was in real life. Only that in-game I can't just go and buy a yellow car of my dreams. Dang.